“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly advice column in which Fatherly’s Parenting Editor Patrick Coleman provides frank answers to reader questions. Want evidence-based answers and some common sense morality? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. We got you. Want a justification for some parenting decision you already made? Ask someone else. Patrick is busy.
My wife and I have been struggling to potty train our little girl. She’s 3 and a half but she’s not doing great in the bathroom. It started out okay but she’s been really messing up so we are trying to figure it out.
But anyway, my wife and me are all the time fighting about this because she thinks our daughter should go back into pull ups and I think we have to keep pushing her. So the other day all of us were out and we met some friends at the playground so our kids can play. Their kids are all potty trained too and the same age as my girl. But I saw my daughter kind of hiding and holding herself. Then I saw she wet her pants because I didn’t put nothing but underwear on her that morning. So my daughter started crying and I was mad because I was frustrated and my wife was mad at me. We drove home and it really sucked.
So what am I supposed to do? I don’t want my daughter to pee her pants anymore but I think going back into pull ups is going way too far backwards. Is my wife right or am I just missing something?
First off, you sound way too emotionally invested in where and how your daughter goes pee. Yes, that’s blunt, but it’s also true. You need to relax a bit. This kind of stress is totally unsustainable. If you’re this uptight during potty training, then you’re going to have a heart attack by the time your girl reaches puberty.
You need to understand that stress and potty training success do not go hand in hand. There is an inverse correlation between the two. The more pressure you put on your daughter to succeed the more likely she’ll remain unsuccessful. This is not one of those times where you can bully your kid into compliance. I mean, you can, but not without loading her up with a ton of baggage.
Your daughter is three. Keep that in perspective. You’re a big dude who has been going potty by himself for a long time. You know what happens when you use the bathroom. You know your excrement is a waste product of your diet and that it swept away by the sewer system. You kid is not that sophisticated yet. She believes in monsters. She does not understand that when she potty’s she is not literally losing a piece of herself to the earth. She may not really understand what it feels like to have to go pee. All of this takes time. But it takes less time when it’s fun.
I know it can be tough when you have friends whose kids seem to be doing better than your kid at a developmental task. But development isn’t a race, man. You might think that a kid needs to arrive at a milestone at the same time as everyone else, but that’s simply not how it works. Your kid will get to where she needs to be at her own time.
Where you’re at right now is not fun. It’s stressful and terrifying and embarrassing. So yes, your wife is right you should be hitting the pause button on potty training. That may mean going back into training pants of some type. But this is not a defeat. It’s more of a regrouping. You need to let things mellow out for a couple of months.
During that time, you need to get on the same page with your wife. You need to develop a potty training plan that you can both agree on. There are plenty of plans available, but whatever you choose you should make it fun. You need to be enthusiastic and make potty training an activity that your daughter enjoys. That’s the path out of training pants and towards success.
Finally, man, you need to relax. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint.
I’m not perfect, but I think I’m a pretty good dad. I’ve got three kids, two boys, and a girl all between the ages of four and nine. I’ve put in a lot of time reading parenting books and keep up with their schedules. I play with them and help them learn. I don’t yell at them or spank them. I do housework and other things too because my wife and I both work and I know I need to do my part to keep things going.
Even though I think I’m doing okay, my wife treats me like I’m some kind of idiot. I don’t mind her teasing and me. But I do have a problem when she starts tearing me down in front of the kids. There have been a couple of times where I caught this.
The other day, I got the kids ready for school and then my wife took our daughter back to her room. I walked past and my wife was changing my daughter’s entire outfit and she was being super grumpy about it. I heard her tell my daughter, “Daddy doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t get it.”
Needless to say, I was pissed. I haven’t said anything to her yet, but it’s been really tense because I’m still so angry. What should I do? Is there a way I can keep her from undermining me or am I just headed for a divorce here?
I’m glad you’re taking a moment to consider what to do next. The worst thing you could possibly do is come at your wife with recrimination, anger, blame, and accusations. Not because the feelings behind them aren’t valid — oh, they’re very valid — but because expressing how you feel in an angry way will hurt any potential reconciliation. And yes, despite your anger and your wife’s behavior there’s a chance to get this figured out. It’ll just require some tactical moves on your part.
Look, I hate the fact that the first move towards reconciliation is on you. That doesn’t seem particularly fair considering you’re the injured party here. But look, it’s quite possibly your wife does not know how shitty she is being or how angry her actions have made you. Naturally, the first step will be helping her understand how her behavior is affecting you.
This means having a conversation. And, given your anger, it’s not going to be a particularly easy conversation either. So do yourself a favor, and before you sit down to talk, try and remember that you and your wife got into this parenthood thing for a reason. You don’t sound like you want it to end. So consider being cool and calm one of the ways to keep it from ending. Go into this talk as collected as you can.
When you do talk, make sure you’re very clear with your wife about the behaviors that make you feel undermined and unappreciated. (Make sure you’re using “I” statement too, so she doesn’t feel attacked.) Start your sentences with “I feel …” and explain your emotional reaction to her specific behaviors. You’re just trying to get both of you on the same page.
The hope here is that your wife just doesn’t understand how she’s making you feel. If that’s the case, this should be enlightening. And if she says that she’s sorry, you need to be ready to forgive her and move on. You can’t hang onto this stuff. It will eat away at you.
But that’s just the beginning of the conversation. You have to expect that your wife’s feelings about you come from a real place, too. It’s possible that when she was dressing your daughter she was exasperated that you’d broken some kind of unwritten rule about girls fashion at school. So it will probably help if you both start making your expectations for one another far more explicit.
Once she acknowledges your feelings of being undermined and you acknowledge whatever frustration she might have about your parenting style, you can meet in the middle. That middle should be an explicit set of guidelines for your family that you can both agree on and refer back to. They’re there to help everyone. So everyone should have a say — even the kids, especially the kids.
You see, there;s more to this problem than you feeling undermined and your wife feeling frustrated. Your kids can see and hear all of this stuff. They are taking it in and they are learning about how to be in a relationship based on the relationship they are observing every day.
By working on that relationship in front of them, you are offering an incredible life lesson: sometimes relationships get bent but that doesn’t mean they’re broken.
Hang in there.
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